Course:3: Processing
Lesson:Lesson 5 – Processing: Putting It All Together
Topic:Background Research

Background Research

First, we want to learn about the collection and research its provenance using pre-processing questions. You will research using resources such as newspapers, biographical dictionaries, local histories, and census records. In this case, you locate several articles in the local newspapers that discuss the life of Lisa Smith and her work.

Who was the creator or accumulator of the records?  

Learn who created the records and why the records were created. Do the records have an “attitude” that may affect the content and interpretation of the information in them? 

Lisa Smith created this collection herself as a record of her work on various exhibits held both locally and nationally. Exhibits were held at galleries and museums. Lisa was very involved in the exhibition of her artwork and created and maintained detailed exhibit files, documenting how the exhibit was put together, reactions to it, what it looked like.

Unprocessed materials


graphic head with question mark
Learn all you can about Lisa Smith (the creator/accumulator) and her relationship to the records.

What do you know about the time, place and subjects of the records?

Research the subject that is the focus of the collection. Learn about the time period in which the records were created, events that transpired, and the setting or locale in which they were derived.

The records were created between 1965 and 1999. They document exhibits of artwork held at several locations including but not limited to the Riveroaks Museum; the West Side Gallery in New York, NY; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Museum of Modern Art; and the Gallerie de Francaise in Paris, France.

The files contain information about each venue and each piece displayed at that venue, including the artist’s handwritten descriptions and background of each painting. These were later edited and incorporated into exhibit catalogs, brochures, and other descriptive information. Most files contain photographs of each piece of artwork included in the exhibits and some contain photographs of the exhibit venue. Also included are newspaper clippings, exhibit catalogs and brochures, and correspondence between the artist and exhibit organizers.

Although the collection was created as a record of exhibits by the artist, its greatest strength is the artist’s own descriptions of each piece, in which she details how the piece was created, the settings, the intent of each piece, and the meanings each piece had for her. These descriptions provide insight into the mind of the artist, how she was affected by the political and social events that occurred, including the Vietnam War, the social upheaval of the 1960s, the environmental movement, and local issues such as plant closings in Riveroaks in the 1970s, and economic development in the region.



Museum of Modern Art logo